Anne Arnold

Fischbach Gallery

Anne Arnold’s life-size sculptures of animals combine the anthropomorphizing of creatures in Walt Disney creations such as Bambi and the eerie, trompe I’oeil presence of Duane Hanson’s and John de Andrea’s Super Realist sculpture, with a concern for formal relationships between surface and armature. Though obviously sculptural objects, these domesticated and pet animals—dog, skunk, three-quarters of a white horse, his and hers portrait busts of sheep, a reclining cow—are at the same time disturbingly animate.

What elevates this work out of the category of fancy stuffed toys or kitschy ceramic animal figures? They may vaguely suggest such creatures, but are clearly not a part of that milieu. These animals are not types. Each of the sculptures is a respectful psychological and physical portrait of a particular animal that goes beyond the typological insight of a caricaturist. In a human portrait, such a caricature would suggest the individual’s bestial nature, and there is a long tradition of finding animal physiognomies and personalities in human types. Likewise, in animal portraits, the similarities to human nature have been suggested. Arnold deliberately draws forth a humanoid intelligence in her animals, which is meant partially to mirror their owners.

Arnold’s earliest work involved a rough, “crude,” hewing and nailing of wood to produce animal sculptures which had a marked similarity to American folk art. Recently, she has turned to the more organic and old-fashioned construction process of using armatures. One of the strengths of the work, taking it further from the realm of the saccharine and cute, is Arnold’s intentional revelation of the structure. Her most characteristic method of constructing her sculpture (photographs of Arnold working are included in the show) is to cut out a series of plywood shapes for an armature. Dynel cloth is stretched over the wood, and polyester resin is stroked over it, stiffening the fabric. The cloth dips slightly between the ridges, giving her beasts an undernourished, bony appearance. The “bones” of the protruding sections of the armature impart an illusion delineating precise body contours. But they are actually a form of abstracting (such as is found in the animal paintings of Franz Marc), because the ridges are not wholly congruent with scientific anatomy. The cow, Gertrude, was probably the most successful because the additive quality of its volumes seemed most aligned with the animal’s actual anatomy. One variation of Arnold’s manipulation of structure and subject matter is found in the ewe, Heidi, where wavy, internal wire lines function both as a kind of knobby spine and musculature, and—seen glowing through the cloth—a kind of drawing. The portrait of Philip Pearlstein’s dog Lassie utilizes a radically different construction technique. The form was built up from shinglelike chips of corrugated cardboard, giving the animal a bristly, clothed appearance.

Aspects of the sculpture were mildly jarring. The sheep seemed acceptable as partial figures on stands, but, the illogicality of the missing hindquarters of the horse Bill seemed to be almost a mutilation. Arnold also has a habit of being, at times, too heavy-handed with her final coat of resin: the horse, for example, looked as if he had been decorated with a coat of icing. Overall though, it is easy to respond to the winsomeness and structural vitality of Arnold’s figures.

Ann-Sargent Wooster